Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

My Superpower? Seeing Inside People

By Kelly Mitchell – Guest Blogger

If you asked me what one of my strengths is, perhaps I’d choose to tell you that I see things in other people that they themselves either don’t see at all, or they are surprised because so few people see it. Many others have this skill and ability, and it’s probably why we gravitate to the helping professions; jobs and careers where much of our time is spent helping other people.

If you think I’m boasting, I’m not. What I’m doing is stating an ability that I have, which is one of my strengths. If put to the test or asked for an example, I could do it in a relatively short period of time, even when meeting someone just once and within a few moments. It’s my superpower. You yourself undoubtedly have skills and abilities that have become well-developed in your job over time, so it stands to reason that I’ve developed job-specific skills too, and this is just one of them.

I’ll give you two examples that just happened yesterday. In one situation I was speaking with a group of seven people about a number of options they might want to pursue in order to become financially independent. It was when addressing the topic of self-employment that I looked right at one man and said, “You for example may have not only one idea, but three or four businesses in mind, and your problem is you can’t focus on one and so you’ve never got started.” At that point I could have stuck an Italian sausage in his mouth as it opened in wonder that I’d identified his key stumbling block to even getting going. “Wow! How did you know that? It’s been my problem for years, but nobody knows that!”

In the second case, a woman in the same group was sitting with her legs entwined like a pretzel, her shoulders hunched, way too much foundation on her 18-year-old face, and her wide eyes and downcast head screamed that she was shy, introverted, and probably hiding acne; as a result feeling insecure. In talking with her 1:1 a short time later, I ventured that as a teenager myself, I had once had an acne problem which had affected my self-confidence, but over time it disappeared and I gained the confidence to look in the mirror and like what I see. “You and I both know that there’s a beautiful face emerging and that acne is only temporary.” I said. She shifted in an instant to a talkative young woman who had great eye contact and she said, “Really? Do you really believe that? I mean some people say that but then I think they have to. Do you really believe that?” And I do.

Now sometimes this ‘super power’ is one I keep to myself or reveal gently rather than with fanfare. There are times I’ll look at a person and tell them that I suspect they’ve been told over a number of years by someone who should have treated them the best that in fact they are worthless and will never amount to anything. And in those moments, sometimes tears start, heads drop, or heads raise and they’ll say, “Is it that obvious?” or, “How did you know that? My dad always told me I’m a loser.” They generally don’t believe me when I then go on to name several characteristics and personality traits they have that I admire and in which they might like to acknowledge.

Now on the sad side, I’ve sat listening to people tell me how successful they plan to be and drone on about their long-term employment goal or entrepreneur idea, and I’ve seen enough in a few moments to tell me that it is never going to happen. And I mean ever. While I’m not one to intentionally put an end to someone’s life-long dreams, there is often a gulf between what a person is really capable of and what they think they are capable of, even with support and advice. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing, and sometimes it’s best to tell it like I see it and then help to reconstruct a realistic plan in which someone can move forward.

And please don’t think I believe I’ve got all the answers. I’m not playing God here and telling people what they should be when they grow up or do to live their lives as I think they should. It’s only about helping them, and sometimes helping people means being honest and direct. Having an ability to anticipate how someone will likely react and delivering things they probably need to hear but don’t want to hear can actually be what they’ll thank you for later. It’s how the message is relayed more than the message itself at times; with compassion and sensitivity.

So if you are in the helping profession, do you have this super power too? I bet the more you deal with people, the better you have become at reading them; seeing the good and the potential when they can’t see it in themselves. I’m guessing you have provided a word or two of encouragement when they were so low they didn’t think anyone could like them, believe in them, and see them as valuable.

Well done Superhero’s.

*The original post can be found at: http://myjobadvice.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/my-superpower-seeing-inside-people/

2 thoughts on “My Superpower? Seeing Inside People”

  1. Great post! I commend you for coming out with your superpower, Kelly. Why not attest to what we do best? Some of us have it ingrained in our past “memory tapes” that there is something wrong about owning our abilities. That’s not playing God; it’s a theme that

    I love that you mentioned the way the message is delivered as being crucial. Some people I know have the best of intentions as they “tell it like it is” to another, but the probability of a good outcome, of true listening and learning, is lost because the message is fumbled so poorly by the messenger. If another is not receptive to the way we deliver a bit of constructive criticism or forward thinking ideology on their behalf, then the message is lost and can impede effective communication in future as the listener puts up walls of protection.

    Conversely, if we intuit that openness and timing are “right” for the listener, and confirm that with a question or two before sharing our insights, the outcome can be a valuable AHA!

  2. A bit was omitted in my comment. What I meant to type in the first paragraph was: That’s not playing God; it’s a theme that is important to us connecting on meaningful levels with those who can most benefit from our purposes and skill sets.

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